Reports of a Pakistan-US airspace deal shared with factual inaccuracies

Social media posts imply that Shehbaz Sharif’s government capitulated to US

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Claim: The Government of Pakistan under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will soon allow the United States to use its airspace to carry out military operations in Afghanistan, according to a CNN report.

Fact: The CNN article cited in viral claims is actually from October 2021. At that time, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the article with a statement denying that it had reached any formal agreement with the US for using its airspace to conduct operations in Afghanistan. There have been no reports suggesting the two countries are close to reaching an agreement on the matter since.

Reports that Pakistan will soon allow the US to use its airspace to carry out military operations in Afghanistan have surfaced on social media. On 3 June 2022, Twitter user @Taahaa shared screengrabs from what appeared to be a Geo News bulletin, with the news cards stating, in Urdu:

“افغانستان میں فوجی آپریشن کیلیے پاکستانی فضائی حدود کے استعمال پر امریکا، پاکستان معاہدے کے قریب، سی این این
[US, Pakistan close to deal on use of Pakistani airspace for military operation in Afghanistan, CNN]”

“بائیڈن انتظامیہ نے امریکی ارکان کانگریس کو پاکستان سے ہونے والے سمجھوتے سے آگاہ کر دیا، سی این این
[Biden administration briefs members of US Congress on deal with Pakistan, CNN]”

Baaghi TV published a report on 4 June 2022 with the headline, “Pakistan to allow airspace access to the US for military operations.” The first paragraph of the report states, “Sources familiar with details from a classified briefing involving members of Congress have alleged….” The information is attributed to CNN.

Fact or Fiction?

Soch Fact Check performed a keyword search and found that CNN had, in fact, published a news report — archived here — about a potential agreement between Pakistan and the US regarding the former allowing the latter to use its airspace for military operations.

In response to the 2021 CNN news report, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign affairs had on 23 October 2021 issued a press release denying that it had reached any formal agreement with the United States for using its airspace to conduct “military and intelligence operations” in Afghanistan. The press release is available here and archived here.

Baaghi TV in its recent report included a link to the press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but did not make clear that the release in fact dates back to October 2021. To the contrary, a 4 June tweet by the outlet suggests that an agreement between the US and Pakistan is impending. However, as has been explained, this is not the case.

Virality

Soch Fact Check found that this is not the first time the CNN report has resurfaced and gone viral on social media with misleading claims. The report was shared in May 2022 and, prior to that, in April 2022 as well.

On 5 May, The Times of Islamabad published the same report, a screenshot of which was then shared on Facebook in June. This was perhaps due to former information and broadcasting minister Fawad Chaudhry and former human rights minister Shireen Mazari — both members of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — sharing CNN’s 2021 report on 5 May 2022 without mentioning the date it was published.

Twitter account @bleedgreenarmy then shared the report on all of its social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, making it appear as if the news was recent.

One Facebook user assumed the agreement in question was for the US to use Pakistani bases to somehow target Pakistani citizens. In sum, the screenshot of the CNN article without the date went viral and was posted to multiple social media accounts. In April, at least 36 Facebook users and pages posted screenshots of the CNN article.

On Twitter, screenshots appeared here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here in April and here in May.

Conclusion: Viral claims suggesting that the Government of Pakistan under Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif will soon allow the US to use its airspace to carry out military operations in Afghanistan are misleading. The CNN report cited in the claims is from October 2021. At the time it was published, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded, denying that Pakistan and the US had concluded such an agreement. No reports suggesting a change to the position have been published since.

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